WASHINGTON | Accused of being used by Donald Trump for political purposes, the Pentagon sought Tuesday to distance itself from the American president after polemical remarks by Defense Minister Mark Esper and the deployment of military reinforcements around the White House.
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In a country where the military is revered, Pentagon chief Mark Esper has raised concerns by saying on Monday that law enforcement must “dominate the battlefield” to restore order, while hundreds Thousands of Americans are protesting police brutality, racism and social inequality exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.
Mr. Esper and the United States Chief of Staff, General Mark Milley, also displayed themselves alongside Mr. Trump when he walked Monday evening outside the iconic building near Saint John Church. of the White House, degraded the day before on the sidelines of a demonstration.
Mr. Esper was in the front row of administration officials, near Donald Trump, when he was photographed in front of the church with a bible in his hand, a few minutes after the brutal dispersion, with batons and tear gas, protesters protesting peacefully near the White House.
General Milley was filmed walking in camouflage behind Mr. Trump. Images quickly taken up by the White House in a video with electoral overtones.
All of this has caused dismay in the Democratic opposition and among former military officials.
“America is not a battlefield. Our citizens are not the enemy, “tweeted a former American chief of staff, ex-general Martin Dempsey.
A senior Pentagon official assured that by speaking of the “battlefield”, Mr. Esper had no ulterior motives, and that the former soldier himself was just speaking in “military jargon” “
As for General Milley’s presence behind the American president during a visibly political exit from the White House, it would have been involuntary, added the senior official who requested anonymity.
The president told them “that he wanted to see the troops deployed outside,” he said, assuring that neither Mr. Esper nor General Milley “knew that the police had decided to evacuate »the area.
Congress took over the case. The influential chairman of the House of Representatives’ Armed Forces Committee Adam Smith expressed concern on Tuesday about President Trump’s “autocratic” leadership and “how it affects the judgment of the military.”
“The role of the US military in policing the territory is limited by law,” he said.
A law prohibits the use of active soldiers in law enforcement missions, except in the event of an insurgency. In the event of public disorder, it is up to each American state to call on former National Guard reservist police.
Democratic candidate for the White House Joe Biden on Tuesday accused Donald Trump of “turning this country into a battlefield plagued by old grudges and new fears”.
Minorities are widely represented in the US military, seen as a social elevator, and discomfort was palpable among the military a week after the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man asphyxiated by a white police officer.
“I’m George Floyd,” tweeted US Air Force Warrant Officer Kaleth Wright, one of the most prominent black military personnel in the United States. “Like most black airmen, I am outraged to see another black man die on television before our eyes.”
“What happens too often in this country to black men victims of police brutality […] could happen to me, “he added in widely echoed messages.
In particular, it received public support from the highest ranking Air Force officer, General Dave Goldstein, who in a letter to unit commanders called the death of George Floyd a “national tragedy” and announced that ‘He would participate on Wednesday with Warrant Officer Wright in an online debate on racism.